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Paul's Letter of Recommendation.
1. Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we?
Paul did not need to commend himself, nor did he need the commendation of others. His apostolic ministry was clearly proven by his successful planting of the church at Corinth. The letters of commendation used by some were entirely unnecessary for Paul.
2. You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.
It was obvious to all that the Corinthian believers were a living letter commending Paul's ministry. But if they were a letter, then he assures them that he carries them in his heart, not his pocket.
3. And you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Through Paul's preaching the Corinthians had come to know Christ as Saviour and left their ungodly lives behind. None could fail to see the change in them (1 Thess. 1:9-10). Kruse writes "this very change constituted a living letter that could be known and read by all." The Word of Christ ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit brought new life to them. They had been dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), but now they were made alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4-5). Since they were born of God, God's Spirit had written His law in their hearts (Heb. 8:10).
Paul emphasizes that it is a spiritual, inward change, rather than an outward change of religion which is performed by Christ through His word. What a privilege it is to be a preacher of the gospel! The importance of our work can never be over stated. Whilst it is not us, but Christ who does the work, the Word of God must be preached by His servants before a miracle of salvation can take place (Rom. 10:14). "Paul and his colleagues were privileged to be the agents by whom living letters from the exalted Christ were inscribed on the hearts of men and women" (Kruse).
4. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.
The apostles had great boldness as they preached God's Word, for they expected Him to fulfill it by saving souls and transforming lives. As we share Christ's Gospel let us expect nothing less. The early Christians were characterized by the boldness of their preaching (Acts 4.13); boldness being the opposite of fear and timidity (2 Tim. 1:7). Believers have great boldness because we know that the Gospel message is true - we have experienced its saving effects in our own lives.
5. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God.
But such confidence is not self confidence. No human agency could produce such powerful and lasting results. Only God can bring salvation to men and women through the Gospel. As Kruse says "spiritual work can only be accomplished by the power of God released though the preaching of the Gospel" (Rom. 1:16).
6. Who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Only as the Spirit of God enables us can we deliver the message of a new covenant ratified by Christ's blood, through which all who believe in him receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
The Glory of the New Covenant.
These verses read like a shorter version of Hebrews, with Paul showing how much better the New Covenant is than the Old. The Old Covenant was founded on the observance of a written code, which only succeeded in producing an outward (rather than an inward and spiritual) change; this can only be produced by the New Covenant. The law of Moses, written on tablets of stone, could not bring righteousness to sinful men. The law revealed God's holiness, declaring that all men had fallen short of His perfect standard, and it proscribed terrible penalties for breaking the law. It could neither make men righteous nor bring them forgiveness for their sins. So even within the pages of the law, God promised to make a New Covenant by which He would set people free from sin and condemnation (Heb. 8:8-12). In the New Covenant, the Son of God has accomplished what the law never could, taking away our sins and making us right with God (Rom. 5:1).
7. Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses' face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside.
The old covenant had such glory that Moses' face shone with its reflection as he read it to the people (Ex. 34:29-35). The children of Israel had to ask Moses to cover his face with a veil, for they could not bear to look at it. Even so, the reflected glory began to fade every time he left God's immediate presence, showing that the Old Covenant would not remain in force forever; it was to one day be abolished.
8, 9. How much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory!
Now if what led to condemnation (sentencing for sin) was glorious, how much more glorious is the gospel which brings justification and eternal life. The law can only pronounce the sentence of death on the law breaker; the Gospel brings us peace with God. Whilst I'm sure that a judge with a black cap on looks majestic, I'd much rather hold a letter of pardon from the King. If the law is the death sentence then the Gospel is the life sentence. Moses is like the judge with the black cap, Paul and other ministers of the gospel are messengers of the Royal amnesty (Isa. 52:7).
10. Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory.
Hence the glory of the death-bringing covenant pails into insignificance when compared to the all surpassing glory of the life-giving covenant.
11. For if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!
The law has been abolished as a means of attaining righteousness; though as the expression of God's will for human conduct it remains valid. By the new covenant the righteous demands of the law are met in those who walk in the Spirit (Rom. 8:4). This covenant will never be replaced by another; and if what is abolished was glorious, that which remains eternally must be even more glorious.
The Simplicity of the Gospel.
12. Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness.
The eternal security and surpassing blessedness which the Gospel brings is the reason for our boldness in Christian witness; we can be quite frank with men in declaring its message.
13 - 16. Not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.
We do not obscure its truth, as Moses hid his face with a veil to hide the glory of the Old Covenant. On the contrary, we make the gospel plain with simple words for men to understand.
Just as Moses' veil was a symbol of the fact that the people could not see the real purpose of the law (it was a sign post or school master to lead us to Christ), so the minds of unbelievers (including unbelieving Jews) remain blinded (2 Cor. 4:3-4). The meaning of the Old Covenant is lost on them even as it is read, because of their unbelief and hardness of heart. The veil is taken away whenever anyone receives Christ, for Christ is the fulfillment of all the Old Covenant promises (Ex. 34:34).
The Mighty Work of the Spirit.
17-18. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
This mighty work of illuminating and delivering the human soul is performed by the Holy Spirit, who is God and Lord of all. He performs His mighty work of regeneration by new birth in the hearts of those who trust in the atoning death and resurrection of Christ. Those who seek to be righteous before God by the law remain in bondage, being unable to fulfill its demands (Gal. 4:24-25 ; Acts 15:10). Those who trust Christ are justified from all things, and enjoy the freedom of peace and acceptance with God (Eph. 1:6).
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